Sawyer Klebs finds his way

Sawyer Klebs at the Mountain School in Vermont. — Photo courtesy of Sawyer Klebs

After 18 is an ongoing series written by graduates from the class of 2014. This week’s dispatch is the first from Sawyer Klebs, of Chilmark.

It is now just over a year since I graduated from high school. The highlight of my high school career was when I left [Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School] in the fall of my junior year to attend the Mountain School, a semester program in Vershire, Vt.  As well, I had the opportunity to aid in a service trip to Thailand and Cambodia in the summer of 2012. I never enjoyed the process of sitting in classrooms to learn. Just sitting for the length of time required in a regular school day is a true test of obedience, and has the makings of a sedentary lifestyle. I sought a way to get out of the classroom and into a place where I was really engaged, so it was a natural fit when my guidance counselor suggested that I graduate a semester early.

January 2014

I officially graduated from the [MVRHS] high school and was already accepted, early action, into Oberlin College in Ohio, and now I had a semester to do what I wanted. I began by traveling to Portland, Ore., to study with shoemaker Jason Hovatter and create a pair of shoes. I stayed for three full days, and left having made my first pair of professional-looking shoes.

February, March, April, May 2014

From there I went on a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) semester in the Rockies for spring. I was in a group of 15 men. The semester has five sections, and we began with the winter section in the Absaroka Mountain chain. Twelve feet of snow fell in the first 16 days. The average snowpack ranged from 9 to 19 feet deep, and I was outside in most of that. Our group skied from campsite to campsite with backpacks and sleds full of gear and food. I won’t go into my relationship with skiing, but I will tell you that telemark skis are not the best at traveling long distances, nor are they the easiest things to go downhill with, especially when there is a 60-pound sled strapped to your waist that may decide it would rather lead you down hills, versus letting you lead.

Next came my Wilderness First Responder training and certification, the primary reason I had chosen this NOLS semester. It was 10 days of (simulated) plane crashes, being hosed down in boxers outside in the cold of a Montana winter by instructors, and treating all types of bodily injury.

The Green River is the chief tributary of the Colorado River. A section of the 180 or so miles I canoed down on that river is the farthest point from any maintained road in the contiguous United States. There is quite a bit more to tell about this section, but most important is that the group began to progress down the five stages of group development.

We had gone from the meet and greet of “forming,” where no one wants to make friction, to the great and terrible process of “storming.” Conflicts arose, and our group began to be forged.

From individuals, a unit formed. We were in the state of “norming,” becoming a group with one another and not just because our program leader was directing us.

The next two stages would be “performing,” where we reach the highest state of group function and interdependence, and then “adjourning,” when the group disbands.

Not all groups reach the stage of performing. Instead they go straight to adjourning. My group did just that. We never quite got to that level of interdependence in personal relations and problem-solving in group function. Because of this we stayed in the norming stage through the canyoneering section in Utah and the rock-climbing section in Colorado. In fact, my semester ended with a regression into storming, as greed got the better of some people. Several group members organized an unfair drawing of sticks in order to give themselves fewer ending chores and the choice of who they wanted to do which jobs. One boy had been the scapegoat of the semester. He had been given the short stick in choosing who would clean the “groover,” the vessel in which a month’s worth of 18 people’s stool would be carried out of the backcountry. The scheme [of the short-stick planters] was discovered, and it gave me a great disappointment for a group that had been forming for three months.

I did not quite like the men who were in my semester, but I was convinced at the beginning that a group can come together and grow to trust one another by other forces than liking one another’s personalities and interests. This was not so on my semester. It is something I reflect on to this day, and a question that has different answers every time. Can a group of people come to trust and support one another when their goals are shared? Or do people always pack a cloak and dagger just in case? Something I can add since then is that my group was made up of only men, and human group dynamics are different when the sexes mix. The mixed semesters, I was told by my group leaders, often get along quite a bit better, and in my pursuits since then I have seen the interplay between men and women be a force for good in an openly communicating society.

June, July, August, September 2014

Last summer I spent going slow and enjoying the warmth of my home on Martha’s Vineyard after living outside in the cold. College started at the end of summer, and I took a nice and forgettable road trip from Woods Hole 11 hours over to Oberlin, Ohio.

I am no longer at school, and I am no longer in Ohio. More on that next time.